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Experts Warn That Robots Should Not Be Given Legal Rights

BRUSSELS, Belgium (CBSDFW.COM/CNN Money) - Europe is thinking about giving rights and responsibilities to the most advanced robots. Many experts agree that this is a terrible idea.

The European Parliament passed a resolution last year that envisions a special legal status of "electronic persons" for the most sophisticated autonomous robots. The proposal is being considered by the European Commission, Europe's top regulator.

More than 150 experts in robotics, artificial intelligence, law, medical science and ethics weighed into the debate on Thursday, with a clear warning against such a move. In an open letter to the European Commission, they said that the proposals appear to be influenced more by science fiction than the real world.

Lawmakers have argued that giving advanced robots legal status would make it possible to hold machines accountable for any damages that they may cause. Mady Delvaux, the parliamentarian who drafted the proposal, was not immediately available to comment on the letter.

The European Commission is working on an initiative on artificial intelligence, which will be presented at the end of April.

"Artificial intelligence can bring major benefits to our society and economy... but it also raises questions, for example, related to the impact of AI on our society and the future of work," a commission spokesperson said.

The experts stated that the European Parliament's proposal could allow manufacturers, programmers and owners of robots to claim that they were not responsible for them.

In the letter, the experts argued that granting robots legal status would be inappropriate -- and that the whole idea is based on a perception of robots "distorted by science fiction and a few recent sensational press announcements."

Nathalie Nevejans is an expert in the ethics of robots at Artois University in France, and was one of the letter's signatories. She said that the idea of granting robots legal personality is "as unhelpful as it is inappropriate." It is impossible for a robot to take part in society without a human operator, and that will not change for the foreseeable future, she added.

"Legal personality would blur the relation between the man and the machine so that the legislator could progressively move towards the attribution of rights to the robot," Nevejans explained. "This would be utterly counterproductive to the extent that we develop them to serve us."

The experts said that Europe should create rules for robotics and artificial intelligence to ensure safety and foster innovation, but not based on a vision of a future ruled by robot overlords.

The parliament's proposals are part of Europe's attempts to be prepared for the future. The resolution says that robots should have to be registered with authorities, and that laws should be written to make sure that robots serve humanity -- and are not used to cause damage.

However, the parliament rejected an earlier suggestion that if robots start replacing human workers, their owners should pay tax or contribute to social security costs.

A display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year put a spotlight on the future of robots, and what the sophisticated creations could mean for gender lines. The display featured robotic strippers, with sculpted chests and buttocks, shimmying on poles. Women at the show called the move "deliberately offensive."

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company contributed to this report.)

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